• An Example of Petty Corruption and Cronyism at State

    January 23, 2013 // 20 Comments »

    A bit of “inside baseball” for you State Department enthusiasts, this article also illustrates the type of petty corruption and cronyism that helps render our government so ineffective. When “public servants” are more committed to serving their own needs above the nation’s, we are all in trouble.

    Note: we are all in trouble.

    Get to Know the Score

    Part of the the Department of State, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), among other things, issues all U.S. passports. Passports are a huge cash cow, generating enough money alongside visa fees to self-fund the Bureau. Maura Harty was head of CA in 2007 when, after ignoring obvious evidence, the Bureau grossly failed to keep up with demand for passports. Harty tried to cover up the mess she presided over, going as far as (some say) fibbing to Congress, and was fired (er, allowed to retire). More details if you want them, here. I was State’s liaison to Congress during the passport fiasco, and had a ringside seat to it all. I was transferred out of the liaison job for failing to lie adequately to Congressional staffers in accordance with CA’s “talking points,” which I knew to be comically false and purposely misleading.


    Many of her former colleagues in CA thought Harty was treated unfairly– after all, the cover-up was designed not only to hide her own incompetence but also to protect the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The vast sums of money generated by passport and visa fees allow CA to function with far less scrutiny than most parts of the Federal government. CA is allowed to control its own budget in large part, semi-autonomously from even its parent organization the Department of State. CA, for example, maintains a huge budget surplus. Cool tip for Congress: Call up CA and ask them how many millions of dollars in surplus fees are being hoarded by the Bureau of Consular Affairs and demand they return the money to the Treasury, for laffs.

    The point was that Harty needed to be taken care of. Step One was to hire her spouse, retired from another U.S. government agency, into a CA position created just for him. Ostensibly having to do with document fraud, Harty’s husband reports directly to senior CA officials instead of through the normal anti-fraud chain. Neat.

    Step Two was to hand Harty a prestigious Foreign Service 2009 Presidential Rank Award. As pointed out here, Harty certainly did not earn the Award, and was technically not even qualified to receive it.

    And Step Three. Harty was rehired this summer by State to work in its Office of the Inspector General, evaluating and making judgment calls on how others perform their jobs.

    What it Means

    All this means very little, except as a neat case study in how petty corruption and cronyism affect the way your government works. Whether one person ends up in or out of State means very little; it is possible that Harty and her spouse do little actual work and simply collect their paychecks as sweet, sweet payback. We will never know. The fuller meaning of it all lies in two areas: the first is that when public institutions are more committed to serving their own needs above the nation’s, we are all in trouble. The second is that most all employees in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and many in State in general, are well-aware of Harty’s story. They see the example, and they get the message that loyalty is valued over competence. Wrought in Latin, that might as well be State’s motto.

    And Back to Benghazi

    We might as well promote Caligula’s horse as the next Secretary of State. Author Patricia Kushlis, writing on this same topic, stated:

    When a human resources system is broken, people without the requisite expertise and judgment occupy positions of authority. When cronyism and worse permeate a system bad things happen. When a security system doesn’t work, people die. When a personnel system fails, incompetent employees make the decisions that result in things like a failed security system.

    Bonus: Lots more damning writing by Kushlis on the State Department personnel system and its Human Resources office.

    Extra Bonus from Free Republic: In the face of harsh criticism by relatives of September 11 victims, Secretary of State Colin Powell said defended the foreign service officer chosen to head the consular service. The relatives’ group accused Maura Harty of incompetence and negligence and demanded that she resign. They said Harty was a top official in Consular Affairs when visa applications were approved in Saudi Arabia for 15 of the 19 hijackers.

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